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Poster: gratefuldiver Date: Aug 2, 2011 10:37pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

I love this thread...especially because I haven't read a single post defending the 80s because of the lack of Donna. (Admittedly, I didn't read every post verbatim, but at least 'no Donna' wasn't a reoccurring argument.) As Donna-bashing is such a common theme on the forum, it's nice to see this negativity not dragged into the "80s question". I bring this up because, for me, the keyboardist defined the era of the band more than any other single factor, and it's impossible to separate the Keith era from Donna. The argument has been made that the drug of choice could define the eras, but considering that the band members weren't always in the same place (chemically), this is a more difficult attribute to single out...especially in the late 70s and late 80s (and with Pigpen throughout his career).

So, back to the keyboardist issue. The Pigpen era was magical. Pigpen didn't bring much to the more psychedelic songs but he played the necessary background chords and, to my ears, never trashed a Dark Star or The Eleven. What Pigpen brought to the table was his stage presence and singing! The fact that he played keyboards was almost irrelevant. One of the key defining factors of the band from 1966 to mid-1971 was Pigpen (THE KEYBOARDIST) giving 101% belting out Smokestack Lightning, Easy Wind, or Lovelight and bringing the house down.

(Tom, like Bruce in the early 1990s, wasn't around long enough or consistently enough to be included in this theory, so we'll neglect Tom's obvious contribution to the more psychedelic portions of the Pigpen era.)

The Keith era was as magical as the Pigpen era. Keith and Jerry found some telepathy that allowed them to play off one another in highly improvisational jams as if each knew exactly what note/chord the other was going to play. I can sense the rebuttal: 1972 Keith was very different from 1978 Keith. Agreed, between late 71 and 73, Keith would more often take short, loud, and impressive solos that rarely occurred later. But from the middle of 1973 forward he'd be content to lay down chords in perfect time a half step ahead or behind of Jerry as needed (e.g., 29 July 1974 - Landover). By 1976 and 1977, he'd play off Jerry on a highly improvisational jam as if the two were singing a duet of a Mozart libretto, practiced for centuries. Just listen to the Auditorium Theatre (Chicago) shows from June 1976 or Comes a Time from 9 May 77 (Buffalo). Even during the periods where Keith would supposedly fall asleep for long portions of the shows in 1978 and 1979, the moments that he'd play would be as fantasitic as ever (e.g., 8 January 79 - MSG). It's not a coincidence that Jerry chose Keith as his keyboard player for the JGB shows in 1977, which (with the lack of a rhythm guitarist) require even more of Keith and he delivers in aces. (If anyone has even an MP3 of the Orpheum, Boston, JGB show from 2 December 77, please let me know.)

Which brings us to the 80s (aka, the Brent era). Brent may have had a better voice (technically) than Pigpen, but by song choice and stage presence, Brent wasn't in the same league. And even if he were a good enough musician to match Keith's skills (doubtful), his reliance on repeatedly playing hackneyed chords on a synthesizer was almost a form of torture to some members of the audience.

I agree that this is far too simplistic, but 80s = Brent, 70s = Keith, 60s = Pigpen. On the most basic level, this is what I don't like about the 80s. (Which is not to say that I don't believe the MIDI, the formulaic set lists, the burn-out, the Healy mixes, the heroin, the lack of practicing, the uninspired songwriting, the diabetes, performing in stadiums--has anyone else mentioned this???--, the recruitment of brand new teenage fans thanks to 'Touch of Gray', didn't all play important roles in making the 1980s Grateful Dead a shadow of what the band was from its beginnings to the late 1970s. But if I had to distill it to one factor: the keyboardist.

In closing, I'm not exactly new, but I don't post that often and feel like Rodney Dangerfield...not being an insider and rarely receiving feedback to my forum posts or show reviews. (And I've never written anything as 'controversial' as this.) If you made it this far, thanks for reading and (more importantly) thanks for all the great theories, anecdotes, and jokes that I read on a daily basis over the years.


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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 3, 2011 2:14am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

Nice post.
It'll surprise no one that I'm also a big Pigpen & Keith fan, and not a Brent fan at all, so I won't get into that. It's interesting how divisive Brent is...some say he's just great & others can't stand him...

You mention a few other interesting things though, that are new to the list, like the Healy mixes. Performing in stadiums caught my eye - perhaps that was deleterious, and certainly it wasn't what the band wanted; by '91 Jerry was moaning to everyone how much he hated stadiums and was sick of playing with the Dead. (Apparently that was one reason he got on heroin again that year.) But the band adjusted to stadiums - they'd been playing pretty big places since '72, so they were no stranger to big crowds.

The fan adulation itself, though, I think contributed to the burnout. Deadheads were notorious for being uncritical & supportive, so the band got the same responses when it flopped as when it flew. Other musicians have also complained how hard it is to keep striving to be at your best when the fans don't seem to care what you play & just showing up is enough.
Weir said in '81: "The undiscriminating and unconditional love and admiration of all those people doesn't do a whole lot for the music, I'll say. We can do anything - we don't have a very critical audience. For instance, on a bad night, if the crowd goes wild after we just rendered a relatively dismal set, I feel horrible about that. I don't think they should clap at all - they should run us out of town on a rail, and they never do."

Jerry, as usual, was more blase about it. In 1980: "It's nice that they're patient and they cut us a lot of slack... They give us a lot of room. We aren't under any particular pressure to perform the greatest hits - they welcome unfamiliar stuff... We have great freedom. We can go out there and play anything, really."
And ten years later: "They know when we have a bad night, and they appreciate a good try... They've allowed themselves that latitude to enjoy a show for lots of different reasons. I think that's in their favor - no matter what the experience has been, they don't get burned."

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Poster: wisconsindead Date: Aug 3, 2011 11:50am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

"It's interesting how divisive Brent is...some say he's just great & others can't stand him..."

I find it totally amazing. I have buddies that live for brent. I recently made my buddy a few mixes of pure brent goodness. I try to get them to understand early 70's late 60s stuff but they just dont get it. They surely enjoy it, But when an 80s deal or minglewood comes on, they're in heaven.

I have a hard time understanding why many peeps think brent was a bad keyboardist, or on a lower level than pig or keith. His addition to jams just seems obvious, hes more present, and maybe thats what people don't like. That he detracts attention from the boys.

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Poster: unclejohn52 Date: Aug 4, 2011 9:22am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

see my post here regarding brent and keith: http://www.archive.org/post/387567/what-do-you-like-about-the-80s

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Poster: snow_and_rain Date: Aug 4, 2011 8:57am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?

Re: People being uncritical of bad performances.

I can't speak for the pre-coma years, but I gather that from December 1986 on most fans considered it kind of a miracle that Jerry was onstage playing the guitar at all. That in itself was something worth cheering for.

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